Environment Justice Matters- Vol 2. Issue 9

Webinar Series

Bengaluru’s Climate Action Plan- Making it Participatory and Inclusive: Week 7

Reports of earlier webinars as part of this series, along with video recordings, are accessible here. We welcome you to join in subsequent sessions of this critical series, every Monday,  6:00 – 7:30 pm. The report on the session held on 3rd May 2021 focusing on “Securing Clean Air and Inclusive Mobility for Bengaluru” is available for reading here.

ESG Features 

When a Member of Parliament and three Members of Legislative Assembly raked a controversy alleging that 18 Muslim personnel working in the “COVID War Room” were involved in a bed fixing scam along with senior officers of BBMP, some of who also happened to be Muslim and Christian, civil society organisations and the media exposed the allegations as fake.  A strongly worded representation was made to the Chief Minister of Karnataka demanding action against the elected representatives for communalising COVID work, and demanding the workers who had been suspended must be reinstated.   

The death of 18 elephants in Nagaon district of Assam has put the spotlight back on Mikir Bamuni and the forceful land grab by Azure Power solar company of farm land which is well known to be a part of the elephant corridor. The tragic loss of an entire elephant family calls to question the staunch defence of this solar park in the ecologically fragile region. 

Public Health 

As the second wave continues to ravage India, the country’s collapsing health infrastructure indicates that the rot in the system had set in a long time ago. But, the current situation has been rendered worse through permissions given to mass gatherings and politicking. As a consequence, new unforeseen crises have emerged, like the orphan crisis and the deepening digital divide between those with agency and those without. 

There also are widespread indications of gross undercounting of those who have died of COVID. This when the deadly virus is now firmly rooting itself in the rural parts of India where health infrastructure is already weak and grossly inadequate. Amidst an increasingly difficult Covid 19 situation in India, the questions on origins of the novel Sars-CoV-2 virus again dominated the public scientific discourse on the pandemic. 

But even in the midst of this devastating second wave, counting the dead is important. Credible estimates would enable the country to shake off the complacency which had set in after the first wave and allow the country to be prepared for future disasters. This Lancet editorial, which slammed the  government for ignoring warning signs preceding the second wave, also suggests a two pronged strategy which can control the outbreak. 

India has also drawn flak from international media for not only mishandling the pandemic but also in how it has blocked or shrouded international aid with intransparency. In this bleak situation, Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district has stood out as a shining example in demonstrating how a robust health care infrastructure can effectively tackle the second wave.          

In other news, long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution has been found to be increasing risks of  pulmonary disease. Long working hours are also killing people. According to WHO and ILO, working 55 hours a week or more is associated with a 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease. 

Biodiversity 

Global warming is a worry across the planet, but nowhere more than in the Arctic where habitat changes are occurring at a speed far quicker than native species can adapt. In Australia, news has emerged that feral donkeys are behaving like lost mega-fauna, digging wells in the desert, which quench the thirst of a range of other species. 

Closer home, a recent discovery of a species of scorpion in the Western Ghats highlights the critical need for more research and conservation efforts in this biodiversity hotspot. 

Climate

Even as Cyclone Tauktae rocks India’s west coast, research firm Verisk Maplecroft states that Asian cities are most vulnerable, and of them Indian cities top the list. Meanwhile as temperatures rise in the Arctic tundra, Greenland’s ice sheet is shrinking rapidly. 

UNEP urges immediate reduction of human-caused methane emissions by 45% to avoid the worst of climate change. Even as German Chancellor Angela Merkel approved an ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, some countries continue to dodge net neutrality targets, and are keen on  exploiting the arctic region for oil, jeopardising global efforts to counter the climate crisis. And as there is growing discussion about India declaring its net zero targets, there is argument for decentralising such efforts. 

That much of the damage to the world from plastic is from  just twenty companies  is revealed in a study which holds them accountable for about half the  plastic waste. Such climate injustices make it crucial to understand how we must talk and convey implications of climate change, as arguments are made for levying carbon taxes that can help redistribute wealth as well. In promoting solutions such as afforestation, however, there is a need to be careful, as this article explains.

Energy

The world’s leading energy organization has called for a stop on any new oil, gas and coal coal-fired power stations to achieve net zero targets by 2050, with Asian energy officials terming such an approach ‘too narrow’. The adoption of clean energy sources in countries like India continues to remain a big challenge with experts believing that such transition is directly related to the purchasing power of the people and will increase only with the upliftment of society. Meanwhile, in the face of the rising climate crisis, ADB has unveiled plans to exit financing coal, oil and natural gas exploration and extraction activities, according to its latest draft energy policy.

Agriculture

With a mounting population, humanity needs a more sustainable way of meeting it’s protein needs than from eating meat. Insects may offer a viable solution! Eating local food is often touted as a less carbon-intensive food choice than going vegan. But as this article suggests, even vegetables imported from far off could be more sustainable than local meat.

Discussions of localism/veganism aside, it is clear that industrialisation and corporatisation of agriculture is the real issue – with some of the world’s biggest food businesses receiving flak for their links with deforestation in the Amazon. Many of the foods we enjoy, from meat to chocolate, are often grown on land which was once pristine forest. 

Closer home, despite growth figures in the agricultural sector which are making headlines, most farmers are struggling through the pandemic and the government’s promise of doubling their incomes still appears to be a long way off. Despite the devastating impacts fertilisers have on soil, human health and biodiversity, plans are afoot to provide even more of these inputs to our farmers. Alongside, few are aware of India’s deepening water crisis, particularly through extensive cultivation of water intensive paddies. 

With groundwater resources already overstretched in India, and irrigation being a major cause of this, a research team in IIT Bombay has developed an innovative model to reduce irrigation water usage between 10 – 30%. 

Environmental Governance

Electric vehicles have often been touted as a panacea to reduce particulate emissions from automobiles. But data has emerged that the biggest source of PM 2.5 is tire wear, not vehicle exhaust. This could raise questions about the viability of mass transition to Electric Vehicles. 

C R Bijoy demonstrates how India’s progressive Forest RIghts Act, 2006 is the most viable forest conservation act. Forces trying to prevent its implementation lean on Gareth Hardin’s widely discredited ‘tragedy of the commons’, when Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom’s work reveals that communities manage commons in far better ways than the state. 

Law & Society

‘Godman’ Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation headquarters is spread over 150 acres in what is alleged to be an elephant corridor near Coimbatore in Tamilnadu. This investigative report by Newslaundry provides extensive details of how rules and regulations appear to have been broken by this establishment. Farmers protesting farm laws and migrants’ crisis are closely linked, argues this essay.

Urban Issues

Bangalore Development Authority plans to tie up with private real estate firms to build apartments on 357 acres of vacant land in its possession. The Authority doesn’t seem to have considered making this land into parks and public spaces

Even as cities have emerged as hotbeds for Covid infections, this author proposes a way forward for reorganising them so that they are better equipped to deal with the effects of the third wave, as well as climate change. 

In a move which has been decried for irreversibly tarnishing Delhi’s heritage and misdirecting precious resources during the pandemic, the Government’s Central Vista project is set to demolish several iconic buildings across the city. 

Communities & Livelihoods

Funding for environmental protection in Brazil has plummeted under the Bolsonaro regime, and this is threatening the lives of many of its indigenous tribes, including the Amazonian Awa. Things aren’t much better for India’s adivasis, with the pandemic and state-sponsored tree planting severely harming their livelihoods. Mining projects are another major threat  to tribals, often displacing them from their lands. Recently, links have emerged between pollution from mines and health disorders, especially in women. And while renewable energy is often painted as green, a privately owned company has been condemned for dispossessing Karbi and Adivasi farmers in Assam of their agricultural land.  

The pursuit of science and production of knowledge is often restricted to the upper echelons of academia, but this article suggests that there are ways it can be democratised to involve more of us.

Book Excerpt

“We had not thought that the Brahmaputra would be hard to find. It’s huge, it’s a river, and it’s right there. I had seen it many times in Guwahati, where it is a single channel of water flowing between two banks and the opposite bank is visible, and of course I had seen it neatly marked on maps. After our first day in Dibrugarh, I realised something was amiss…”, writes Samrat Chaudhury in The Braided River: A Journey Across the Brahmaputra

Interview

In an interview with Mongabay India, ethologist and evolutionary biologist Raghavendra Gadgakar highlights the importance of low-cost scientific research and the need for academia to recognise it’s value.

Obituary

Tony Allan was a great convener. He brought together farmers, hydrologists, economists, CEOs, engineers and political scientists for spirited debates over the ethics, science and shortcomings of food and political systems. Deeply sympathetic to farmers, he saw them as being squeezed by complex power structures to produce “underpriced food for underpaid people”. In his view, businesses should account for water, just like labour. Without a radical change in the commodity trade systems, supply chains and consumer habits, society would face major future water and food challenges. He maintained that “we do not live in economies … we live in political economies” and that “good governance is when .com, .org and .gov work together for the good of society”.

Now his ideas underpin metrics such as the water footprints used by companies like Coca-Cola and Marks & Spencer to account for their impacts and dependencies on water resources. In the UK, learning about virtual water is part of the A-level geography syllabus. Read his obituary in The Guardian.

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